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Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 Review

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On 10/13/2010 at 03:35 PM by Jason Ross

Haven’t We Been Here Before?

For those who’ve played the classic Sonic titles, but want more. Anyone new to Sonic’s roots should try to find a way to play the earlier Genesis games first, then consider Sonic 4: Episode 1.

Are you a Sonic fan? Take a run down memory lane; everyone else, direct course to the Genesis Sonic games.

Why? During a few playthroughs of Sonic 4: Episode 1, a few things have become clear. To begin, much of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 is derivative work from the previous Sonic the Hedgehog games. See, Sega and Dimps set forth to create a Sonic title that recaptured the elements found in that handful of titles. Indeed, the feel of Sonic and Sonic 2 are recaptured in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 - there’s a focus on building and maintaining momentum, learning and mastering enemies as well as stages, and platforming is central to the game’s theme. This is great news.

For the most part, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1’s gameplay just feels right. Sonic builds up speed as he flies down ramps. He can bounce from one enemy to another to rack up rather meaningless points and reach new heights. Rings are valuable commodities that protect Sonic from death upon collision with spikes or an enemy. Players have to maneuver Sonic with a degree of foresight and anticipation of the constantly advancing stage, but there rarely seems a point where progression necessitates trial-and-error gameplay, unlike a few of the more recent Sonic games.

But there’s something wrong here. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 reintegrated the classic Sonic gameplay that made Sega fans love the hedgehog to begin with, but the game doesn’t stop there. Zones are unapologetically based upon ones from Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic 2. For classic fans like myself, it’s true a feeling of nostalgia is established, but unfortunately, the feeling left me wondering why I’d choose to play Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 over the former Sonic classics. There truthfully isn’t much new to see here. Like the zones, every boss is derived from a few in Sonic or Sonic 2; disappointingly, the bosses only begin to deviate two attacks before they are defeated, with the exception of the episode’s final boss. In a sense, the game has even regressed, lacking Sonic’s pal, Tails, whom, in Sonic 2 and Sonic 3, acts as a helpful partner for a second player to control.

Furthermore, the sense of nostalgia is greatly reduced upon discovery of a few new elements intended to provide a bit of zest to Episode 1, but ultimately sour the experience. There’s two notable examples, the first being what I call “Enemy Ladders.” In Sonic 4: Episode 1, Sonic has brought back his homing attack from 3D Sonic titles. Happily, in most cases, this works well. It lets players easily target springs and enemies without much trouble, and when no enemies are around, it grants Sonic a mid-air boost or directional change. However, nearly every stage has the aforementioned enemy ladders; that is, a diagonal row of enemies placed mid-air for Sonic to use his homing attack on in order to reach a higher platform. How is this a problem? When Sonic uses the attack on enemies, all momentum is stopped, entirely. He bounces straight into the air, and then must repeat the action, typically three more times, to progress. In a game about building and maintaining momentum to effectively navigate various platforms, this loss is greatly noticed and consistently annoying.

While not quite as tedious, motion-control is seemingly shoe-horned into the game, and in most cases, it isn’t a good fit. Even though players can opt to use the D-pad over the tilting gestures, control feels sluggish and unresponsive, and with the exception of the special stages, out of place. This is a stark contrast to Episode 1’s normal control, which is precise and sharp.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 looks very smooth in motion, necessary for the high-speed of which Sonic dashes through stages. Stages are brightly colored and match their theme well, as do the enemies chosen, though all or almost all enemies hail from Sonic or Sonic 2. As you might expect, everything has received a nice graphical touch-up. While the art styles throughout zones and their enemies are consistent, Dr. Eggman, Sonic’s nemesis, and Sonic himself, seem to be animated or colored through slightly different means than most everything else. This doesn’t stand out very much, though, except in nitpicky over-analysis.

The game’s music doesn’t seem to match quite as well as the visual presentation. While many of the tracks do an adequate job, none seem quite as catchy as the early Sonic tunes. These tunes get the job done and match the game’s pacing well enough, but I would've preferred to have one or two stand-out songs. Still, the music does feel reminiscent of the early Sonic tunes, and enjoyably matches the game’s pacing.

Most unfortunately, Sonic 4: Episode 1 is a bit too short for its price. When the game concluded, I couldn’t help but feel there should’ve been a bit more. I was very disappointed that much of the content wasn’t more original, and, as I said before, it became apparent that by basing the game entirely on early Sonic titles, much of the game is spent with a “Been-there, done-that” feeling. The title is more expensive, yet shorter than these same early Sonic games, all of which can at least be found on WiiWare and XBLA, or on Sonic Mega Collection for a much lower price. Simply put, Sonic 4: Episode 1 is inferior to any one of the four original Genesis classics, and even for a major Sonic fan, it feels somewhat redundant. Episode 1 isn’t a bad game, per se, and it does fit in the original, main Sonic series, but its new features and borrowed design mar what otherwise would be a fantastic entry into Sonic’s repertoire.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.

Side By Side - Any Way You Want It

This review was based on the WiiWare version of Sonic 4: Episode 1. The PSN and XBLA versions have higher resolutions, and both look better in action compared, but all three still remain sharp in motion. The iOS version of the game features a few different motion-based stages not found in the other versions, and likewise, the other versions have a few platforming-based stages not found on any iOS platform. The PSN and WiiWare versions also include the option for tilt-based control of a few minimal elements in gameplay, but in all three console versions, these elements can also be controlled via the D-pad.



Our Take

Nick DiMola Director

10/13/2010 at 04:14 PM

I also picked this one up and played through it. I'd say that I echo the exact sentiments put forth by Jason. The game looked and acted like a classic Sonic game, but it was missing some of the heart and soul.

The sense of speed wasn't quite there due to the enemy ladders, and the level themes felt a bit too analogous to the old games. I felt the music was criminally bad, which oddly put a damper on the experience for me.

Even worse is the length of the game, which weighs in at a paltry two hours. Given the ease of the game as a whole combined with the short length, there isn't much to enjoy here.

I was left asking the same question as Jason at the end, "Why should I play this over any of the original Genesis Sonic games?"


10/15/2010 at 01:29 AM

"I was left asking the same question as Jason at the end, "Why should I play this over any of the original Genesis Sonic games?"

My thoughts exactly. The problem is, besides Iizuka, there is no one left that worked on the original Sonic titles for the Genesis at Sonic Team. I don't even think they got Yasahara (the original Game Designer for the first three and Knuckles) back to help with the stages.

And where the fuck was Naofumi Hataya for this game? What about Mariko Nanba? Shit, anyone from Wave Master is better then Jun Sunoue.

- Matto

Jason Ross Senior Editor

10/20/2010 at 12:10 AM

It's not even that, really, Matto.

There's such a disconnect between the people at or with Sega who design Sonic games now and the fans, it's just insane.

Look at the game's marketing: On one hand, there's Sega, brandishing a list of all the characters who won't be in the game, saying it returns to it's roots. Then, the game is episodic, leaves out Tails, and throws in motion controls.

From there, someone leaked out a full playthrough of the game on Partner Net, some kind of beta-build testing Xbox 360 developer service. The game was nearly exactly the same as what we got in the end release, keep in mind this was in March or April, only the few motion-based stages were taken out, and replaced with other stages.

Sega took three extra months to do that, increase Sonic's acceleration a little bit, and speed up how quickly he hit his fastest running animation. Three months for two or three stages and minor engine/design tweaks! The game was done months before the planned release, and the delay made no sense. Major Sonic fans knew it, and that's why they're upset about this game in particular. Is it a revival of the classic Sonic gameplay? Yes. Is it really a renewal of Sega's commitment to quality Sonic games? Not really. To Sonic fans, it's been a reminder of why Sega's marketing team is untrustworthy and how Sega essentially delayed a game three or so months for minor changes just because one guy leaked video of the game illegally.

Yeah, anyway, what I'm trying to say is that without even looking at personnel, Sega's commitment to the revival of Sonic has been a pretty shallow one so far, and if Sonic Colors weren't on the horizon, I'd say the effort was totally inept in every department.

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